The Richards Sangeeta and Phillip
diplomatic row: devyani khobragade
The Other Side Of The Story
In the petition that her husband filed back home, Phillip details the excesses his wife suffered while in Devyani’s employ
COMMENTS PRINT
diplomatic row: devyani khobragade
Its envoy’s humiliation outrages India, but there are issues it needs to look at
Pranay Sharma
opinion
Can we have some sympathy for the other Indian too in this story?
Saba Naqvi

Tell-Tale Charges

Sangeeta Richard’s husband Phillip in a petition to Delhi HC

  • ”The treatment of Sangeeta by Devyani Khobragade is tantamount to keeping a person in slavery-like conditions or keeping a person in bondage.”
  • ”Even though the contract stipulated that Sunday would be an off-day she worked from 6 am to 11 pm, minus 2 hours for church even on Sunday. She worked from 6 am to 11 pm on Saturday as well.”
  • “Uttam Khobragade called Sangeeta’s family several times and threatened them that they would have to face dire consequences if she complains and that he would ruin their future, get them abducted and frame false charges of drugs against them.”
  • ”At the immigration office, Devyani  falsely accused Sangeeta of theft, in front of the US Immigration Officer. Sangeeta asked what it was she had stolen. Devyani could not say and threatened her saying that she will come to know when she returns home.”

Sangeeta’s daughter Jennifer to “prakashs@state.gov” in July

  • ”My mother used to sound unhappy whenever she talked to us on phone.She asked Devyani to send her back to India but Devyani refused her request.”
  • “Uttam Khobragade forced police to come to our house at night around 11 pm. There were 5 policemen. From that day onwards police has started calling my father, my brother and me as well... He said to my father that he would destroy our future and not let my father continue with his job anymore.”
  • ”We no more feel safe in our own house because of the phone calls we are getting and the words that Uttam Khobragade has said to my father. We really need your help to get out of all this trouble. It is like a mental torture on my family. PLEASE HELP US.”

***

Much has been said on ‘Khobragate’ but almost none of it has come from Sangeeta Richard, the help, or her family. Though she is in the US, few know about her whereabouts; neither has she issued any statement after walking out of her employer’s house in June. Even her husband and two children—a son and daughter—are now in the US, having flown out of New Delhi days before Devyani Khobragade’s arrest, and remain incommunicado. In this context, one crucial document that adds fresh detail to the prevailing narrative is the petition her husband Phillip Richard had filed in the Delhi High Court in July this year.

The charges, culled from phone conversations he had with Sangeeta, cast Devyani in a somewhat different light, more a perpetrator than a victim. Phillip accuses her of treating his wife “like a slave”, making her work from 6 am to 11 pm everyday, “often without breaks”, and pleads for her to be punished. Even though she was entitled to a day off, the petition claims, she was made to work similar hours on Sunday, with a break of two hours for her to go to church. “She was even asked to stop eating if she had some work to do,” says Tariq Adeeb, Phillip’s advocate. Devyani reportedly also “confiscated” Sangeeta’s passport after the duo’s arrival in November last year “telling her that the original has to be submitted in the ministry”. “This was just a subterfuge to illegally keep Sangeeta’s passport,” the petition reads.

 
 
“If she couldn’t afford a help in New York, she should not have taken one. We have to give a domestic help’s work due dignity.”
 
 
As outrage over Devyani’s arrest and her maltreatment grew, there was little thought for Sangeeta. “If she couldn’t afford a help in New York, she should not have taken one. We have to give the work of a domestic help its due dignity,” says Rishi Kant, who works for Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based organisation that works with domestic helps. New York-based Preet Bharara, the prosecutor in this case, also asked pointedly, “One wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?”

Weeks after her arrival, Sangeeta complained to Phillip about her “miserable work condition” and asked her employer to relieve her and have her sent to India. On June 23, a day after telling Phillip of her constant harassment, she went out to buy groceries. And has not returned since. Phillip even accuses Devyani of deducting Rs 10,000 from her salary when Sangeeta fell ill whereas her contract promised “full medical care”. His plea was dismissed on July 19, according to Adeeb, because the high court claimed “no jurisdiction on a crime committed on foreign soil”.

Devyani stands accused by US authorities of “visa fraud” and giving “false information”. While submitting details for a visa for Sangeeta, she clearly stated she would be paid $9.75 per hour, in line with the minimum wage requirements, but alongside she had executed a second contract that was signed by the two and concealed from US authorities. According to this, she would be paid a maximum of Rs 30,000 per month or $3.31 per hour.

The US complaint, based on statements by Sangeeta, even accuses the diplomat of instructing her not to mention being paid Rs 30,000 at the visa interview and claim that she would work stipulated hours. Phillip’s petition also adds that Devyani “took the signature of Sangeeta” on the second contract at the airport two hours before their departure. The diplomat’s father, Uttam Khobragade, has refuted these charges, claiming that Sangeeta was being paid $8.75, of which Rs 30,000 was being sent to her husband every month. They have even accused Sangeeta of “extortion”, claiming she asked for $10,000, a regular passport—hers was an official one secured for her by her employer—and immigration assistance. At a press conference in Mumbai, Devyani’s father reiterated that stand. “We paid her according to the minimum wage. Sangeeta seems to have used Devyani to go to the US,” he said. With Sangeeta herself still not having given her side of the story, the last word on ‘Khobragate’ is still awaited.


By Debarshi Dasgupta with Prachi Pinglay-Plumber in Mumbai

COMMENTS PRINT
diplomatic row: devyani khobragade
Its envoy’s humiliation outrages India, but there are issues it needs to look at
Pranay Sharma
opinion
Can we have some sympathy for the other Indian too in this story?
Saba Naqvi
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